In the dating game, speaking styles count

NEW YORK Tue Feb 1, 2011 2:56pm EST

A couple embraces as a subway train arrives in the station in New York May 24, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A couple embraces as a subway train arrives in the station in New York May 24, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - American researchers have found a new way to predict the success of a relationship -- compare the speaking style of a couple.

In a study of college students they found that couples whose language was in sync were almost four times more likely to want to see each other again than those who did not use similar language.

"We are able to predict this at higher rates than the people themselves," said Professor James Pennebaker, of the University of Texas, who headed the research team.

The researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Psychological Science, focused on function words -- which are not nouns or verbs but the words that show how those words relate. For example: a, be, anything, that, will, him.

"Function words are highly social and they require social skills to use," Pennebaker explained. "For example, if I'm talking about the article that's coming out, and in a few minutes I make some reference to 'the article', you and I both know what that article means."

As part of the experiment, about 40 pairs of college students participated in four-minute speed dates and had their conversations recorded.

"We found that function words are a powerful reflection of somebody's psychological state," Pennebaker said. "You can tell when people are in the same state or are on the same page."

A second part of the study examined the everyday instant message conversations between already dating couples over a 10-day period. The conversations were analyzed by a computer for words and conversational patterns.

Pennebaker said that researchers were once again able to fairly accurately predict which couples would continue dating.

They found that the speaking and writing styles couples use during interactions are a good indicator of whether or not a relationship will be successful.

"The higher their style matching scores, the more likely they were to still be dating later on," Pennebaker said.

About 80 percent of the couples whose conversational styles were similar were still dating three months after the experiment, compared with just 54 percent of couples whose styles were markedly different.

Pennebaker said that the results were notable because they occur during everyday conversations, even though most people don't notice.

"None of us pay attention to these words," Pennebaker said. "What's wonderful about this is we don't really make that decision; it just comes out of our mouths."

(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr., editing by Patricia Reaney)

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